National Academy of Sciences Credits Herbicides for Adoption of Conservation Measures in the U.S

Tillage vs. Herbicides

Tillage vs. Herbicides

In the early 20th century, American farmland was eroding at an alarming rate. The cause of this erosion was continuous plowing of fields to keep weeds out. When herbicides were introduced to control weeds, farmers could reduce tillage. As a result, there have been major reductions in soil erosion in the United States. The National Academy of Sciences has pointed out that this improvement in conserving the soil would not have occurred had it not been for herbicides…..

“The use of herbicides has reduced the need for growers to cultivate to control weeds and that reduction has led to an increase in the practices associated with conservation tillage. These include no-till, ridge-till, strip-till, and mulch-till—practices that leave at least 30% cover after planting. Leaving cover after planting reduces soil loss due to wind and water erosion up to 90%, and it increases crop residue (organic matter) on the soil surfaces up to 40%. Conservation tillage in the United States has increased from 26.1% of the total acreage in 1990 to 37.2% of the total acreage in 1998. Without herbicides, widespread adoption of conservation tillage would likely not have taken place.”

Author: Committee on the Future Role of Pesticides in US Agriculture
Affiliation: National Research Council
Title: The future role of pesticides in US agriculture
Source: Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources and Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology Commission on Life Sciences. 2000.

US Drought Effects Would Be Worse Without Pesticides

The current drought has received extensive media coverage. There will be no Dust Bowl this year thanks to the use of pesticides. Farmers have been using herbicides instead of tilling the soil for weed control. By not disturbing the soil, they have conserved soil moisture. Corn yields would be worse if it were not for herbicide technology, a point made in an editorial by David Bridges, President of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, GA.

“The Midwest ‘flash drought’ is withering much of our 2012 corn crop. … Now is the perfect time to consider the benefits to farmers, consumers and the environment of something routinely demonized by activists – pesticides. Pesticides? Yes. Without them, things would be worse, on all ends of our current dilemma.”

“Between 1980 and 2011, corn yields here grew by 64 percent while soil loss dropped 67 percent, energy use dropped 43 percent and carbon emissions fell 36 percent. Of vital importance this year: Irrigation water use for corn dropped 53 percent in the same period.”

“Pesticides and other technologies conserve natural resources while providing a production buffer that limits the effects of natural disasters and the disruptions of unforeseen shortages.”

USA Today echoed these sentiments on August 20.

“The severe drought that has hit the Farm Belt does not immediately threaten to create another Dust Bowl or widespread crop failure, thanks to rapid innovations in the past 20 years in seed quality, planting practices and farming technology, farmers and plant scientists say. … In the past 20 years, farmers have transformed from plowing fields 8 to 11 inches deep to ‘no-till’ or ‘conservation-tillage’ practices designed to minimally disturb the ground. That exposes the soil to less wind erosion, preserves natural nutrients, and captures and retains what moisture does fall.”

Author: David Bridges
Affiliation: Agronomist and President of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, GA
Headline: Drought Would Be Worse Without Pesticides
Publication: Des Moines Register, Wednesday, July 25, 2012.

Author: Chuck Raasch
Headline: Another Dust Bowl for Farm Belt Unlikely
Publication: USA Today, Monday, August 20, 2012